This book explores misdemeanor courts in the United States by focusing on the processing of misdemeanor crimes and the resultant consequences of conviction, such as loss of employment and housing, the imposition of significant fines, and loss of liberty—all amounting to the criminalization of poverty that happens in many U.S. misdemeanor courts. A major concern is the lack of due process employed in lower courts. Although the seminal case of Gideon v. Wainwright required the appointment of counsel to individuals too poor to hire counsel in felony cases, it was not until 1967, when the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice found a crisis in the lower courts, that the Supreme Court extended the right to counsel to some (though not all) prosecutions of misdemeanor offenses.
The first step to improving our understanding of the lower courts is a concerted effort by scholars to focus on the processing and outcomes of misdemeanor cases. This collection begins to fill the void by providing a comprehensive review of the scholarly work on the lower courts in the United States. Collecting analysis from key academics engaged in work in this area today, the book reviews the varying specialized lower criminal courts, including specialty courts that have emerged in just the last couple of decades, along with discussions of the history, legal challenges, operation, primary actors (judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and defendants), and current research on these courts. The book explores the profound consequences misdemeanor processing has for defendants and discusses the future of the lower criminal courts and offers best practices to improve them.
The Lower Criminal Courts is essential for scholars and undergraduate and graduate students in criminology, sociology, justice studies, pre-law/legal studies, political science, and social work., and is also useful as a resource providing legal practitioners with important information highlighting the significance of consequences of misdemeanor arrests, detentions, and adjudications.
The Lower Criminal Courts is a timely and meaningful addition to the literature on courts and criminal justice. The authors focus much-needed attention on an understudied and misunderstood, but extremely important aspect of the criminal justice system. This is must-read material for anyone interested in how the criminal courts provide (or fail to provide) justice.
Craig Hemmens, JD, PhD, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University
Although misdemeanors represent the vast majority of American criminal cases, they have historically received inadequate academic attention. This thorough and serious survey, with its wide range of scholarly offerings, helps to fill that void. For students, the book provides an effective introduction to the enormous and complex lower court landscape. For scholars and policymakers, it offers careful and useful analyses. Overall, it deepens the current conversation about misdemeanors and their centrality to our criminal justice system.
Alexandra Natapoff, author of Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal
Every year millions of people are charged with misdemeanor offenses, an event that can have surprising impact on life and livelihood. Yet much remains unknown about the inner workings of what, in many courts, can only charitably be called the misdemeanor "system." The articles in this book shine a bright light on the way the various criminal justice players through an array of common court practices actually work to shape due process —for better and for worse. This book takes a deep and candid look at the actions of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, and is highly recommended for those with an interest in the challenges facing misdemeanor courts and the possibility of reform.
Brian J. Ostrom, PhD, National Center for State Courts
In the United States more than 13 million individuals are prosecuted for misdemeanor crimes annually. Yet, The Lower Criminal Courts provides irrefutable evidence that "the vast majority of these defendants are deprived of their fundamental rights to counsel and jury trial." Professors Alisa Smith and Sean Maddan have compiled a tour de force that fully explores the history of the nation’s misdemeanor courts and how they have become one of the most powerful engines of assembly line injustice ever devised. An impressive array of authors present the research and Gindings that prove the magnitude of this injustice, and analyze the many factors that contributed to this blight on the American notions of fairness and justice. As importantly, in identifying potential reforms, the compilation offers a cautionary tales about the dangers of overreliance on seemingly simplistic panaceas, such as dubious policing practices, and the need to embrace innovation at all stages of the criminal justice process. The Lower Criminal Courts is an essential resource for anyone who wants to understand the disgraceful state of the nation’s misdemeanor courts and intelligently pursue meaningful and effective reform.
Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Section 1 Introduction to the Legal and Empirical History of the Lower Courts
1. Introduction—Why Misdemeanor Courts Matter (Alisa Smith)
2. Legal History of Misdemeanor Courts (Alisa Smith)
3. The Process is the Punishment Revisited: Forty-Year-Anniversary Review (Jennifer Earl)
Section 2 Research and Scholarly Work on Misdemeanors Today
4. The Impact of Broken-Windows Policing on Lower Criminal Courts (Jacinta Gau &
5. Providing Counsel for Defendants: Access, Quality, and Impact (Andrew Davis &
6. Misdemeanor Justice in Rural Courts (Alissa Pollitz Worden &
7. The Validity of Misdemeanor Pleas (Samantha Luna, Amy Dezember, & Allison
8. Race and the Misdemeanor Courts (Amanda Cook)
9.The Financial Consequences of Misdemeanors (Sean Maddan & Sierra Bell)
10. Specialty Courts as Lower Criminal Courts (Richard Hartley)
Section 3 Recommendations for Reforming the Lower Courts
11. The Prosecutor in the Misdemeanor Courtroom: Nudging Culture Change in Policy and
Practice (Julian Adler, Sherene Crawford, & Tia Pooler)
12. Bail and Pretrial Detention for Misdemeanor Offenders (Alissa Worden & Reveka
13. Necessary, But Not Sufficient: A Reexamination of Procedural Justice in the Lower
Courts (and Beyond) (Julian Adler, Rachel Swaner, & Michael Rempel)
14. The Future of Drug, Homeless, and Veterans Courts (Mai Naito)
15. Conclusion (Sean Maddan)